Babalorisha Professor John Mason- “The Calendar is our enemy because we are not reflected in it.”
Last Tuesday (31st July)-the eve of Emancipation- I had the pleasure of listening to H H Babalorisha Ofunde Professor John Mason of the USA. Despite the heavy downpour there was a committed bunch that braved the weather to be present at the Hindu Prachaar Kendra (HPK) in Enterprise, Chaguanas.
The event was hosted by the HPK in association with the ASTREL TT (Association of Traditional Religions of Trinidad and Tobago) and IESOM, an Orisha Shrine, located in Santa Cruz. Iyalode Adisa, spiritual head of IESOM was present along with Iya Sango Wumni, the outgoing spiritual head, and more than a dozen devotees, dressed in their brightly coloured traditional African garb with distinguished head pieces.
Arriving at the Kendra Professor John Mason and his entourage were welcomed with the rhythmic beat of the tassa, garlanded and ushered to their seats. This was followed by the lighting of the ceremonial lamp by Iya Songo Wumni and Babalorisha Professor John Mason and prayers and words of welcome.
Photo : Devotees of Iesom Orisha Shrine of Santa Cruz render a song
Two devotees of the IESOM Shrine sang an African spiritual. This was followed with the presentation of a copy the Bhagavad Gita to Babalorisha Professor John Mason by Geeta Vahini, President of the HPK.
Speaking on the topic Religion in a post-colonial society Raviji said that “I stand between two ancient civilizations but we share in one humanity and we share also terrible experiences visited upon our civilizations.”
Raviji welcomed the devotees to “this shrine” and said that “I have been invited to the other shrine where I have been treated as an elder.”
Raviji welcomed the new leader of the IESOM shrine and pointed out that at the Kendra “a lady has also taken charge in the person of Geeta Vahini.”
Raviji lamented the reality that “Africans and Indians do not look at each other through their ancestral eyes but through the eyes of strangers.” He said that “through democracy we have accepted laws that have their foundation in the Bible; not in our Indian and African traditions and experiences.”
“Religion in post-colonial democratic societies takes us on a ride...we forget the danger…thinking it’s a rabbit hole when it’s a viper’s hole… we put our hands deeper and deeper until you get a deadly bite. I think that is happening to us.
“Behind the term democracy we have felt that we were free at the time of independence…that is democracy… all over the world pagans have suffered…sometimes I feel that god in your name and god in my name have sent us to fight with each other…no African is looking at me with African eyes, and no Indian is looking at Africans with Indian eyes…we are seeing each other with the eyes of a stranger.
Photo: An attentive audience at the Kendra.
“Democracy gave us laws from England. Those laws were biblical in nature and handed to us. In this way we were taking the biblical way of seeing things…we accepted something that was skewed to continue a natural understanding of the world through biblical eyes.
“This skewing is in the calendar we adopted at the time of independence. The Orisha has no face…doh tell me Carnival…that is not what it is… Hindus have Divali, Muslims have Eid but what have you? Nothing! There is nothing like Osun Festival…Shango was there…nothing to reflect that...the calendar reflects Greek, Roman and Biblical things.
“How many holidays we have? …52 Sundays, Easter…two months for the school…we are swimming and immersed in a western kind of Biblical setting…”
Babalorisha John Mason of New York is a researcher and writer. He was happy to be at the HPK and thank Raviji for the opportunity to share his knowledge. He said that “I believe in the teaching Christ though not a Christian…I went to Catholic school…was given special training…have me all set to go to the seminary…I became a priest but not the priest they thought.”
“Respect for the teaching of Christ remains even though I am not a Christian,” he said.
Dr John Mason said that “the USA is not a monolithic society…the Louisiana Purchase…wars fought to take over territories…we have not talked about the 100 million native Americans that had to be displaced and taken off their lands..”
He said: “Colonialism is a funny word…people have been pushed from their privacy…and we deny them the right to think and then they are castigated …’You believe in that…this is your symbol of divinity’… In this way we try to become like the others…the majority population.”
Dr Mason continued: “We are the majority. People who look like you and me are the dominant population of the world…my teacher use to tell me: Do you know what the Hindus do, they create religion…that is our technology. It is our way of understanding universal principles.”
He lamented the fact that “the calendar becomes our enemy because we are not reflected in that calendar…in television you don’t see our culture, our ideas or our cooking…though the cooking shows that everybody has to eat spaghetti. I love spaghetti but that comes from an older culture…that the three stones that are set to cook represent Africa, India and China…”
The program closed with the rendition of “Mission to the Caribbean” by Seeromani Naraynsingh, the chanting of bhojan mantra before the serving of dinner.